Papa’s widowed sister Aunty Ifeoma arrives the next day with her children. She is the opposite of her brother – lively, playful and quick to laugh. Aunty Ifeoma calls Mama nwunye m, Igbo for “my wife.” Although she is a Christian, she retains some of her traditional upbringing. Mama explains to Kambili that it means she is accepted. Mama and Ifeoma talk about the gossip in their respective umunnas. Ifeoma’s in-laws spread rumors that she killed her beloved husband. Mama’s umunna often urges her husband to take another wife. Mama was grateful to have Ifeoma on her side. She says she doesn’t know what she would have done if Papa left her. Aunty Ifeoma says sometimes life begins after marriage.
Kambili watches and listens to her aunt intently, almost hypnotized by her manner and bronze lipstick. Aunty Ifeoma complains that life at the University in Nsukka, where she teaches, is getting increasingly difficult. Teachers have not been paid in two months and some have emigrated to America. Aunty Ifeoma can no longer afford cooking gas. Mama urges her to ask her brother for help. She insists the situation is not that dire. Papa emerges and he begrudgingly obliges Aunty Ifeoma’s request to take Kambili and Jaja the following day for “sightseeing.” She does not tell him that part of the trip will entail seeing the Aro festival, a traditional Igbo parade of masquerading spirits called mmuo.
Kambili’s cousins arrive: Amaka, 15, an inquisitive teenage girl, Obiora, 14, an intelligent and assured boy, and Chima, big for his seven years. All kids share their mother’s throaty laugh. Amaka asks if they can watch CNN on the Achike's satellite TV. Kambili nearly chokes every time Amaka speaks to her, but she manages to explain they don’t watch much TV. Amaka sneers and asks if she is bored with satellite. Kambili lets the insult pass and does not tell her cousin the truth – TV time is not in her schedule. When they leave, Obiora and Chima say goodbye. Amaka does not turn back to her cousin.
The next day, Aunty Ifeoma picks up Kambili and Jaja. She suggests to Kambili that she change into trousers, but she politely declines. Kambili again does not tell her aunt the truth – she owns no trousers because it is sinful for women to wear pants. Kambili and Jaja pile into the car, Mama watching as they drive away. Aunty Ifeoma announces they will pick up Papa-Nnukwu first and Kambili’s stomach lurches. Jaja and Kambili do not get out of the car at Papa-Nnukwu’s home. Kambili explains that, though they were allowed to visit him briefly, they must keep their distance from pagans. Aunty Ifeoma shakes her head. Papa-Nnukwu climbs into the car and he jokes about dying soon. There is a familiarity to their banter. Kambili and Jaja do not laugh at any of their jokes.
Aunty Ifeoma’s car passes Papa’s house and Papa-Nnukwu sighs. Though his son owns a huge compound, there is often nothing on his plate. He blames the missionaries for leading Papa astray. Aunty Ifeoma interjects that she went to a missionary school as well, and she still takes care of her father. Papa-Nnukwu teases her, but continues his story about the first missionary in Abba. A white priest, Father John, gathers the local children and teaches them his religion. Papa-Nnukwu asked the priest about his God. Father John replies that his God is not unlike Chukwu, Papa-Nnuwku’s god, because he lives in the sky. Papa-Nnukwu also asked him about the man on the cross. Father John told him he is Jesus, God’s son, and they are equal. Papa-Nnukwu cannot believe that father and son would be equal. He thinks his own son disrespects him because he believes he is equal.
The car arrives at the Aro festival. Aunty Ifeoma points out the parading mmuo, which Papa had once deemed devilish folklore. But they do not look dangerous to Kambili. A person dressed as a woman spirit with a carved wooden mask and rouged lips stops to dance. Crowds cheer and throw naira at her while boys play music. Papa-Nnukwu instructs the women to look away from a mmuo with a grimacing human skull mask. A tortoise is tied to his head and a snake and three dead chickens hang from his costume. Women run fearfully. Papa-Nnukwu explains that he is the most powerful. Jaja asks how the people get into the costumes and Papa-Nnukwu hushes him, insisting they are spirits. He asks Jaja if he had done his imo mmuo, the initiation into the spirit world which is the first step towards manhood. Jaja says no, shame in his eyes.
Aunty Ifeoma drops off a sleepy Papa-Nnukwu and then Kambili and Jaja. She asks her children if they would like to go inside and Amaka answers no in such a way that makes her brothers also decline. Aunty Ifeoma waves to Papa, then hugs Kambili and Jaja tightly. That night, Kambili dreams she is laughing, but the voice is not her own. Her aunty’s throaty, enthusiastic laugh escapes her own lips.
Aunty Ifeoma and Mama are two very different women. Though Aunty Ifeoma grew up with Papa, she is a liberated woman who speaks her mind. Mama dismisses Ifeoma’s arguments as “university talk.” Mama has no use for logic that does not apply to her situation. Mama buys into the patriarchal paradigm. Papa is the head of the household and she is proud of his accomplishments and how they reflect on her family. Papa offers the same luxuries to Aunty Ifeoma and her children, but she refuses to submit to his will. Despite their different perspectives, Aunty Ifeoma and Mama love each other. Using a phrase common to the umunna, Aunty Ifeoma refers to Mama as “my wife,” and the women support one another. Kambili notes that her mother speaks more with Aunty Ifeoma. Both are struggling with their own hardships, but love bonds them together.
Like their mothers, Kambili and Amaka are very different. Though both girls are 15, Amaka is self-assured. She wears lipstick like her mother, laughs like her mother, and does not openly praise Papa just because she is supposed to. From the outset, Amaka has a disdain for Kambili. Like her classmates, Amaka assumes her reticence is a product of her economic class. When Kambili is unable to answer why her family does not watch much satellite TV, Amaka assumes she is bored by her luxuries. Amaka is being raised by a single parent. The privileges that Kambili can afford seem wondrous, but they leave her feeling bitter about her own station in life. Though she is liberal like her mother, Amaka is close-minded when it comes to class. Kambili, unable to speak for herself, allows Amaka to believe her life is rosy. But nothing is as simple as it appears. Amaka and her brothers are poor but loved and encouraged and Kambili is wealthy yet troubled.
When Aunty Ifeoma picks up Papa-Nnukwu, Kambili and Jaja do not get out of the car. This is reminiscent of the tense scene inside the Achike family car outside of Father Benedict’s house. Aunty Ifeoma is lighter, more amused than angry, at the children’s unwillingness to leave the safety of the car. She is gently trying to urge reason into their minds. Although Papa asks Mama if she would like to get of the car, his question carries the threat of violence. His question is a command and not a conversation. Kambili and Jaja do not get out of the car at Papa-Nnukwu’s, but they also do not refuse to spend the day with him. Kambili wonders if they will get caught and, if so, what the punishments will be from both Papa and God.
The Aro Festival is unlike any ritual the Achike children have witnessed. A parade of men and women dressed in spirit costumes, this taste of ancestral ritual is both forbidden and tantalizing. Unfamiliar with its meaning, Jaja makes the mistake of asking how the people get inside the costumes. Papa-Nnukwu tells him that they are not people, but mmuo now. The ritual makes the people spirits. Jaja is ashamed that he does not know anything about his culture.
Jaja is also ashamed that he has not done the initiation, the first step towards manhood. Obiora, two years his junior, has done so. At seventeen, Jaja is not yet a man but he should have been taking steps toward adulthood. Papa and his religion preclude him from growing up. From this point on, Jaja begins his own initiation ritual by subtly challenging the authority of his father until Palm Sunday.
Kambili’s dreams are an important motif. In her dreams, she allows herself to process what she cannot say. Here, she dreams that she laughs Aunty Ifeoma’s laugh. In real life, she barely speaks above a whisper let alone laugh. She wishes she can speak the words Aunty Ifeoma speaks. She wishes she can be free.